Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland

Nearly half of French workers living near the Swiss border are employed in Geneva. That’s because French companies can’t match the salaries these people are earning in Switzerland.

Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland
Tens of thousands of French workers commute to Geneva daily. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

According to a report by Switzerland’s SRF television, more than 44 percent of French nationals who live near the Swiss border work in Geneva. 

These numbers are based on a report by the French Institute for Statistics and Demographic Studies.

About 85,000 workers commute to their jobs in Geneva each day from the nearby French regions of Haute-Savoie and Ain.

These employees – called frontaliers – prefer to work in Switzerland because they can earn up to double the salary they would get in France for the same job. Also, taxes are lower in Switzerland than in France.

This poses a problem for French companies located near the border, as they can’t find any personnel.

For instance, Jean Benoît-Guyot runs a plumbing business in the French commune of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, which is located right on the border with the canton of Geneva.

He said he would like to immediately hire at least five employees, but can't find anyone locally.

“Everyone wants to work in Switzerland”, he told the SRF.

The same situation is common in Switzerland's other border areas as well.

READ MORE: Will Switzerland extend the beneficial tax arrangements for cross-border workers? 

Kévin Lecoq, who lives in the French region bordering the Swiss canton of Jura told the SRF that at end of his cooking apprenticeship he didn't even look for work in France, but went straight to Switzerland.

Today he works with four other French citizens in a pizzeria in the Jura town of Saignelégier.

“If we add up everything that has to be paid in taxes, we still have one and a half times the French salary”, he said.

Another cross-border effect of Swiss wages is that frontaliers are driving up the rents and living costs in the neighbouring areas of France. This, in turn, encourages even more French workers to seek employment in Switzerland.

But while the SRF report focused on the French, the same situation exists in cantons of Ticino and Basel, which share borders with Italy and Germany, respectively.

More than 67,000 Italian cross-border workers are employed in Ticino, and over 33,000 Germans are employed in Switzerland.

In total, 329,000 frontaliers work for Swiss companies.

Cross-border commuters can be employed in Switzerland thanks to a bilateral agreement,The Free Movement of Persons, that the government signed with the countries of the European Union. It allows EU nationals free access to the Swiss labour market.

Member comments

  1. I know that many who live in France choose to work in Switzerland due to higher salary, but I also know that for a lot of people, the process was the opposite. They were offered a job in Switzerland, but in certain Swiss cities (Geneva for example, which hosts a lot of French cross-border workers), there is a serious housing shortage, so a lot of people are forced to extend the perimeters of their housing search.

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Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

The Covid pandemic hit Switzerland hard, although the country's largest city has rebounded strongly.

Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

Measures imposed due to the Covid pandemic, which began in earnest in February 2020, shuttered businesses across the country and pushed many people out of work. 

When most notable Covid rules were relaxed in Switzerland in mid-February 2022, the economic recovery – highlighted by a strong job market – began in earnest in 2021. 

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic

Nowhere was this more evident than Zurich, Switzerland’s largest and most economically powerful city. 

How did Zurich rebound from the Covid pandemic in comparison to the rest of the country?

Even though Zurich, along with other large Swiss cities like Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne, have been hit hard by the pandemic from the employment perspective, Zurich’s labour market is now growing faster than in other urban centres.

One of the reasons for this upward trend is that young, well-educated foreigners are coming back.

In the first nine months of 2021, the city’s population grew significantly.

In September alone, it recorded 2,200 additional residents.

This is mainly due to people with a B residence permit, according to Klemens Rosin, methodologist at Zurich’s Statistics Office.

During the crisis, far fewer of them left the city. “This group is made up of well-educated, younger and mobile foreigners who have made a significant contribution to Zurich’s growth”, Rosin said.

Zurich’s employment market is expect to grow even further.

READ MORE: How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

That’s because in the coming years, many Zurich workers will retire — an estimated  210,000 by year 2050 — creating more job opportunities for younger employees.

In fact, according to a study commissioned by the canton in 2021, if Zurich’s economy is to continue to flourish, it will need around 1.37 million workers by mid-century.

If these vacancies will not be filled, then income, tax revenue and the financing of social security programs will be impacted.

READ MORE: Have your say: What’s the best way to find a job in Zurich

While it is difficult to predict what jobs will be most in demand in 2050 — what new technologies will emerge in the meantime — right now and in medium term, IT workers will be especially needed, experts say, because businesses will continue to to digitalise and automate.

Lower skilled jobs will also be in higher demand, including hospitality, retail and transport. 

With hundreds of thousands of vacancies to fill, people with the permission to work in Switzerland are likely to be flush with offers – particularly skilled workers with recognised qualifications. 

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier